Rachel Rossin: The Sky is a Gap

Rachel Rossin explodes notions of time and space in her new multi-user virtual reality installation at the Zabludowicz Collection

Stalking the Trace (Rachel Rossin, 2019) exhibition installation at Zabludowicz Collection

Stalking the Trace (Rachel Rossin, 2019) exhibition installation at Zabludowicz Collection

“Time and space are modes by which we live,” stated Albert Einstein, “and not conditions in which we live.” These two modes form the crux of Rachel Rossin’s The Sky is a Gap (2017-19), a multi-user iteration of which is currently the primary element of a new exhibition Stalking the Trace at the Zabludowicz Collection.

Originally inspired by the slow-motion detonations at the end of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970) (scene below), Rossin takes similar moments of explosions and reworks them into an experience through which we understand the link between space and time through the form of our own movements. This is done by linking the forward playing of the immersive environment to the forward motion of the individual along a pre-determined axis. Through a number of scenes - ranging from the domestic like Antonioni’s, to the militaristic, to the abstract - the user walks the short distance that equates to the scenario’s timeline as it plays out around them.

If the user stops, the visuals and audio stop too. If the user steps backwards, the world around them - the particular, explosive moment they’ve found themselves in - begins to rewind. In Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) there is a scene in which the shops and cafes of a small street begin to explode around the characters, in The Sky is a Gap you’re able to reverse that effect, to see the flames of an explosion condense back in to its white hot centre. It’s difficult not think back to Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller Minority Report (2002) and they way Tom Cruise uses a gesture-based computer interface to scrub through imagery and audio, moving back and forth in time and the turn of his wrist (a gesture not unlike the one devised for Benedict Cumberbatch’s time control in the recent Doctor Strange (2016)). Like Cruise’s character, what Rossin’s work allows is for the viewer to use their body to pause their environment, to shift their perspective, to take a second look at something now gone.

Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.
— Albert Einstein

It has a striking effect, as much in its imaginary implications as the (virtual) reality of what is happening within the experience itself. Self-proclaimed wizard and eternalise Alan Moore has speculated in a couple of recent film collaborations with Andrew Kötting (By Our Selves (2015) and Lek and the Dogs (2017)) that time is a solid and that our experience of it as linear is purely our way of understanding a movement through space as sequential. The Sky is the Gap gives an opportunity to comprehend and explore this idea first hand, imagining the bodily sensation of controlling our perception of time and using it to change the way we see and experience the world around us now and in the past - or perhaps that should be ‘behind us’.

The above-mentioned detonations scene from Zabriskie Point (Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1970). From YouTube.

The scene in which the above-mentioned gestural display from Minority Report (2002) is most evident. From YouTube.


Stalking the Trace is on at the Zabludowicz Collection until 7 July, 2019